In May 2011, I was a senior in high school, having just spent two days arguing with my fellow delegates at a local Model United Nations conference about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. At this conference, one delegate brought up the unthinkable: why are we promoting nuclear energy when these power plants could be destroyed by an act of god. And in just a few short weeks, those words turned out to be more prophetic than we realized, as the Great East Japan Earthquake started a devastating chain of events in the afternoon of May 11, 2011. This massive earthquake was followed by the devastating tsunami that killed thousands and resulted in the nuclear reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, that led to the region having to be evacuated.
What I did not expect in May 2011 was that my post-university career would be in the nuclear power industry. Every day, I work and interact with the experts in nuclear power generation, many who were key in the international response to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. It has been enlightening to hear the technical side of what happened on that day in 2011, as well as the strong benefits that nuclear power brings to our world. Yet it is important to also remember the impact that this disaster–the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear disaster–had on everyday Japanese people who lived in the small towns and villages in the Fukushima prefecture.
Guardian of Fukushima is an upcoming graphic novel from French author Fabien Grolleau, artist Ewen Blain, and translator Jenna Martin, with a planned release in English in January 2023. This book’s English publisher, TOKYOPOP, was kind enough to release a preview as part of this year’s Free Comic Book Day offerings. Guardian of Fukushima tells the story of Naoto, the real-life resident of Tomioka, Fukushima prefecture, who refused to follow evacuation orders to stay behind to care for all the animals left behind by the evacuating population. Naoto continues to care for and feed the animals of Fukushima to this day.
The Free Comic Book Day preview gives us the briefest glimpse of Naoto’s story, covering the beginning of the disasters, but provides insight into just what we can expect from the longer work. Beautifully illustrated with a clean style and vibrant colors, Blain’s art respectfully shows Japanese subjects and culture without engaging in stereotyping or appropriating inappropriate cultural references. Meanwhile, Grolleau’s writing (and Martin’s translating) gives us a glimpse into the kind-hearted, caring nature of Naoto. Of particular note is how Grolleau and Blain weave traditional Japanese myths into the story, as Naoto uses them to help explain the disaster happening before their eyes to his nephew, Koichi.
Guardian of Fukushima will be an important work that contributes to the storytelling around our modern world and the disasters that often befall it. Terrible events like the Great East Japan Earthquake bring the faults of our world into focus, and it is our responsibility to address what they reveal. Art is often a medium that challenges our complacency, and Guardian of Fukushima promises to be a key work in that regard. The Free Comic Book Day preview is a great look into this incredible, emotional story about the resilience of humanity and our role as caretakers of this planet. I look forward to reading the full graphic novel once it’s released in January.